Have you been scrolling through your social media feeds and looking at all the ‘normal’ posting, and thinking how incongruous and inappropriate it feels when there is a big old war kicking off?

It’s an awkward thing, marketing during wartime. There are always wars of course. War never ends and there is always a war raging somewhere.

But nothing with such a large potential global threat has been seen for a while. The hashtag #WWIII has been trending since it started. Across the world we are all nervous; horrified by the possibilities, worried about the next steps. How can we even think about posting about our business when the words ‘nuclear threat’ are kicking around?

The world does keep turning…

But how, then, are we supposed to carry on the business of marketing, without looking callous and insensitive? I personally have felt this, scrolling through Facebook, seeing the advertising, self-congratulatory posts about goals achieved, exciting news about new clients – all completely reasonable in normal times.

The uncomfortable juxtaposition of marketing, of influencers and products, rolling through the feed next to the horrific imagery and news from the front line. How ugly it feels to be so, I don’t know, commercial, during such challenging times.

And perhaps even more ugly, the flag-waving virtue-signallers. Many of whom probably mean well, but equally, many of whom are using this narrative to bolster their own image. Look how much I care, see my Ukrainian flag! And how do you tell the difference between those who are actually taking action, and those who just want to look good?

Behaviour is important to brands

After disasters, people remember who behaved well, and who didn’t. We remember in the early days of the pandemic how Wetherspoons’ Tim Martin treated his staff; how UK ‘tax exile’ Richard Branson asked his staff to take eight weeks unpaid leave and then asked for government funding, despite being able to afford to fly himself to space. These are just a couple – if you want to see a rolling list, you can find that here. You’ll probably feel like having a shower after reading it though.

But back to the point – after a global health crisis and two years of challenge, the last thing your business needs is to stop marketing and working. We totally get that. But there are probably right and wrong ways of doing this. Ways you can promote your goods and services without looking like an insensitive clown.

Can your business actually help?

Do you have anything useful you can do? Supplies (not clothes) that can be sent to the front line as humanitarian aid? Can you help with comms, with news gathering and distribution? Take note of brands like AB InBev sending canned water to Ukraine, or Elon Musk aligning satellites so Ukrainians can maintain an online connection.

Yeah, these are huge businesses – but is there something your company can do? Even if your two-person team can raise some funds by doing something daft for sponsorship, can you do that? If you can, and you want to, do that stuff. Then you get to fly your blue and yellow flag and earn it. Or your Russian flag, I guess.

Engage instead of broadcasting

Remember that slogan, ‘Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country’? Well, this sort of attitude is true here too. But as well as helping out where you can, in this case you could also replace the word ‘country’ with ‘clients’.

Simply flogging your wares in a tone-deaf format with no acknowledgement of what’s going on just makes you look insensitive. Reach out to engage with people understanding that everyone is shook – and that includes your clients. The world keeps turning, but don’t ignore what’s going on. In short, make your marketing about your clients – not just targeted AT them.

Stay true to your brand and its values

If you’re a business worth its salt, you’ll have a company ethos and some brand values. Stay aligned with those and make sure your messaging is consistent. Don’t go for gimmicks, and for goodness’ sake don’t use the war as an angle unless you’re doing something useful with it. Just be you, and be mindful.

Work on your strategy

If your current strategy is a bit ‘seat of the pants’, now is the time to change it. Time to stop whacking up a post when you remember, or a blog when you think about it. Sit down with a pencil and a napkin and make a plan, and maybe run some of it past other people. They’ll tell you if you’re tone deaf or not – because often, when it’s us, we are the last people to know.

About the Author: Sam Harrington-Lowe

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